Geek Speak: Words Scientists Use Differently Than Everyone Else

By Steve West | Published

science communication

As an adult, I’ve found myself pursuing science education at a rate that would make my high school self reel. As a teenager, I did the bare minimum in science class, and only when taking physics as a senior did a spark of interest arise. The problem is that for most of us laymen, the terminology and word usage by scientists is confounding.

They insist on using words that have a different, or at least altered, meaning when translated over to the common colloquialism. In other words, 16-year-old me wanted to put in the bare minimum of work, and these science jerks were making homework tedious.

It makes things difficult when trying to explain simple concepts to a friend. For a time, I was heavily into evolutionary biology, and not for political reasons. I found the whole concept and study of mutations within species fascinating. I still do. But I was once asked to explain how I could believe observable evolutionary mutations had existed in the wild and not just forced in a lab. My mind was clear on the subject, but the words failed me. Because I relied on the words I’d read in scientific journals or in newsgroup discussions.

The word “evolution” itself is highly contentious. Scientists hold evolution as a fact and have proven that it does occur. However, there is a theory of evolution that is used to explain how it happens and why.

This is ever-changing as new information is discovered. This is a principle aspect of the study of evolution that misinformed people use to prove evolution to be a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

To help our readers make sense of things, we’ve put together a handy guide listing words that are often used differently by scientists than their common usage. Here are the top twenty most misused science words to help you keep it all straight.

The 20 Most Misused Science Terms

Scientists need to learn to communicate better with the public. We live in an age where information is the most valuable resource, and obfuscating that knowledge with equivocation, even if accidental, leads to more confusion